“Young people these days, gallivanting all over the place. In my day, unmarried people didn’t go on holidays alone. They got married first.”
“Oh Mother, you have such an archaic view of relationships. Nowadays lots of unmarried couples go away together and society doesn’t see anything wrong with it.”
“Well, society definitely isn’t the way it used to be in my day. Nowadays people are living how they please with no thought of the consequences or how it could reflect badly on them and their poor families.”
Emile sat in the armchair beside the window, catching snippets of the conversation between his mother and sister. They didn’t draw him into it because they could see that he was preoccupied. He was thinking about Celine. This morning, he finally faced the truth. He was in love with her. It wasn’t something he wanted to happen. After all, she was Théo’s girlfriend.
He never imagined that his life would change forever because of the afternoon he went with Théo to the restaurant where Celine worked. He had heard so much about her that he was curious to meet her.
“I told her that we were coming,” Théo told him when they were sitting at a table. The place was busy as usual for a Saturday.
“I hope she doesn’t mind you bringing me here to meet her.”
“Not at all. In fact, she’s looking forward to meeting you.”
Emile looked around. “I notice that the staff is mostly students,” he remarked.
“Yes, that’s because the university is close by which is one of the reasons why Celine is working here.”
“How does she manage working here while going to school?”
“This is the first time I’ve been here but I’ve heard about it. They serve Italian food.”
“Yes. Oh, there she is.” He waved and a few minutes later Celine was standing at the table. He smiled up at her before turning to Emile who stood up. “Emile, this is Celine. Celine, my brother, Emile.”
Emile felt his breath catch in his throat when he looked down into those big and beautiful brown eyes framed by long lashes. She was young and beautiful. Her skin was smooth and flawless. He wondered if it felt as soft as it looked. Her neck was long and slender. And her lips, he saw them part to reveal even white teeth. She was smiling at him and holding out her hand. He took it, marveling at how small and slight it felt in his. Clearing his throat, he muttered, “I’m pleased to meet you, Celine.”
“I’m pleased to meet you too, Emile,” she said. “Théo promised me that he would bring you around today. I’m happy he kept his promise. I hope you will like it here and will come again.”
“I’m sure I will,” he replied. He tried not to stare and after he released her hand, he sat down.
She turned to Théo. “You didn’t mention that he was this handsome,” she said, teasingly. “Is that why you didn’t bring him around to meet me before today? Were you afraid that I might like him better than you?”
Théo grinned. “Something like that.”
She smiled. “It would serve you right if I did. Anyway, what would you like to drink?”
“All right.” She looked at Emile who hadn’t been able to take his eyes off her. “What about you, Emile?” Just the way she said his name made his heart skip a beat.
“I’ll have a French limonade, thank you.”
“I’ll get your drinks while you take a look at the menu.” She excused herself and went away.
As soon as she was gone, Théo remarked, “She’s a lovely girl, isn’t she?”
Emile kept his eyes on the menu. “Yes, she is.” He wondered if his brother had noticed the way he kept staring at her.
A few minutes later she returned with their drinks and took their orders. Before she moved off, her eyes lingered on Emile who felt his face grow hot. He knew then that he had to go back to the restaurant—just to see her again. And he did the following night. He was alone and he sat at the same table. She looked surprised but very pleased to see him.
“Back so soon?” she said as she stood at the table. “I guess you enjoyed your dining experience yesterday.”
He nodded. “Yes, I did. I enjoyed the food and really liked the service.”
She smiled. “Thank you.”
“What do you recommend that I try this time?”
“Try the Penne with basil and Home Provencal tomato sauce.”
“Sounds good. I’ll have that.”
“I’ll be right back.”
When she returned, he asked, “What time do you get off of work?”
“I get off at nine.”
“That’s an hour from now. Do you have a ride home?”
“I usually take the train.”
“May I give you a ride home?”
“Sure. Thank you.” She excused herself to go and wait on the other tables.
He watched her as he ate, thinking that she looked even more beautiful that yesterday. He glanced at his watch. He couldn’t wait for nine o’ clock to come so that he could be completely alone with her. For dessert he had a fruit salad and then paid the bill. He gave her a generous tip which she was very appreciative of. He waited for her at the door and together they stepped out into the warm night. They walked to where his car was parked. He held the door for her and their eyes met briefly before she got in. He lowered his tall frame behind the wheel and soon they were merging into traffic.
“Do you live alone?” he asked.
“No, I live with my aunt on my mother’s side.”
“Do you have other family here in Paris?”
“No. The rest of my family is back in Guadeloupe.”
“Do you visit them?”
“Yes, but only at Christmas time. It’s the only time I can get away. I stay here during the summer to work full-time at the restaurant.”
“Do you have any siblings?”
“I had a younger sister but she died from pneumonia when she was eight.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. It must have been a great tragedy for your family.”
“Yes it was a great loss for us. I know my mother wished she had let Louise come to Paris with me. She believes that Louise would still be alive. About a year ago something really weird happened to me. I was on my way to church when I saw a woman and her daughter. The little girl was my sister’s doppelganger. I stood there staring at her because her resemblance to Louise was uncanny. If I believed in ghosts, I would have sworn that I was looking at my dead sister. It still gives me the chills.”
“I have heard of such things. They say that everyone has a twin somewhere out there. My sister said she saw someone who looked exactly like her sister-in-law one day in the shopping mall and she called out to her but the woman didn’t look around. When she spoke to Marie the next day, she learned that she was in London at the time. I hope I don’t have a double.”
She laughed. “What about Théo? Can you imagine two of him?”
“It would be double trouble, for sure.”
“Growing up with him must have been fun, though.”
“Yes, it was. He mentioned that you are in your second year of university. What are you studying?”
“Hospitality and Leisure Management. There are two areas which I’m interested in–hotels and restaurants.”
“Is that why you’re working at the restaurant?”
“Yes. Next year, I’ll work at a hotel.”
“I have no doubt that you would be exceptional in both of these areas.”
She smiled. “Thank you, Emile.”
She was such a refreshing change from the women he used to date, most of whom were all airs and graces. He liked that she was down to earth and modest. She was easy-going, charming and self-assured. Théo was a very lucky man. “So, what do you do when you’re not studying or working?”
“I read, go for walks, shop and watch television.”
“And spend time with Théo.”
“Yes. What about you? What do you like to do in your spare time?”
“I like to read, hike, play tennis, swimming, cycling, going to motor and art shows and eating out.”
“Sounds like you have a very active life of leisure. Do you have a girlfriend?”
Her question caught him by surprise and it took a few moments for him to answer. “No, I don’t have a girlfriend.” And I wish you didn’t have a boyfriend.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be so nosy.”
“It’s all right,” he said quietly.
“Here we are,” she said, pointing to the apartment building on the right. He slowed down and pulled up alongside the curb. She turned to him. “Thanks for the lift, Emile.”
He looked at her, his expression tense. “When can I see you again?”
“I’m not busy tomorrow,” she informed him. Tomorrow was Saturday.
“How would you like to visit the Chateau de Saint-Germain-en-Laye?
“I would like that very much. I’ve always wanted to visit the musée d’Archéologie nationale. ”
“I will pick you up at nine.” He turned away to open the door and get out. He walked around to open hers. After she stepped out he said, “Goodnight, Celine.”
“Goodnight, Emile.” She smiled up at him before she walked away. He watched her until she went inside and then he got back in the car and drove off. As he headed back to his apartment, he tried convince himself that there was no harm in going on an excursion to Saint-Germain-en-Laye. It was all perfectly innocent. She always wanted to visit the museum and he merely giving her what she wanted. Surely Théo wouldn’t have a problem with that. Besides, he wasn’t interested in this sort of thing.
They ended up spending the entire day in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. They visited the chateau and the museum before having lunch at a nearby restaurant. After lunch, they stopped by composer Debussy’s childhood home and museum where many of his personal possessions were kept. They visited the Eglise Saint Germain and the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, one of the oldest churches in Paris.
Before heading back to the car, they strolled through Place des Marchés, having ice-cream, soaking up the atmosphere. On the drive home, they talked about all they had seen and how much they enjoyed the excursion. Outside of her flat, they faced each other. He wanted so badly to lean over and kiss her but it wouldn’t be right. Instead he reached for her hand and raised it to his lips.
“Thank you for a lovely day,” she said, her eyes wide as they met his. She sounded a little breathless.
“It was my pleasure,” was his quiet reply. He was still holding her hand which he was reluctant to let go of. “Is it serious between Théo and you?” He had to ask.
The expression on her face could only be described as baffled but why should she be? It took a moment for her to say something. “Why do you ask?”
He released her hand then. “You’re right. I shouldn’t have asked the question. Goodnight, Celine.”
He turned and walked away. In the lift, he leaned against the wall as he dragged his fingers through his hair. He promised himself that he would stay away from Celine. He had to.
Several weeks passed and he kept busy so that he wouldn’t think about her and miss her but at nights it was torture. He had sleepless nights. When he saw Théo, he resisted the temptation to ask about her but one evening while they were having lunch at a bistro close to where he worked, his brother said to him, “Celine has been acting very strange lately. She isn’t her usual upbeat self. Something’s troubling her but she won’t tell me what it is.”
Emile tried to appear calm but his heart was racing at the mere mention of her name. Perhaps she was feeling guilty about going to Saint-Germain-en-Laye with him. “Maybe she has a lot on her mind.”
“Well, I’m taking her dancing at Le Bal Swing tonight. Hopefully that will cheer her up.”
Emile didn’t answer and he hid his face behind the menu so that Théo couldn’t see the downcast expression on his face. That night he stayed home, wondering if Celine was having a good time dancing the night away with his brother. The following day, he drove over to the family chateau to visit his mother. His sister, Ines was there and now they were having a very heated debate over something or the other.
“What’s the matter?” he asked. Their raised voices had intruded upon his thoughts.
His mother looked at him, exasperated. “Well, it’s nice of you to finally join us,” she said crossly. “Perhaps you can talk your brother out of flying off to St. Barts.”
A surprised expression crossed Emile’s face. “Théo is going to St. Barts?” He wondered why he hadn’t mentioned that to him.
“Yes, he decided this morning that he was going to take a trip.”
“What’s wrong with him going to St. Barts?”
“Exactly!” Ines chimed in.
Her mother humphed at her before saying to Emile, “I wouldn’t object if he were going alone or with his friends but he’s going with some girl–”
Emile stiffened at once. “Do you know who she is?”
“Her name began with a C.”
“Celine?” he asked tightly, his expression taut as he met his mother’s gaze.
“Yes, that’s it. I told him that I didn’t approve of him going on vacation with a girl he wasn’t married to and–” She broke off when Emile got abruptly to his feet and stared up at him in surprise. “What’s the matter?” she asked.
“I have to leave, Mother.”
“Where are you going?” she demanded. “We haven’t even had dinner as yet.”
“I’m sorry but I can’t stay. Goodnight.”
“Are you all right?” Ines asked as he walked past her.
Without turning around, he bid her a terse “Goodnight.”
She stared after him, bewildered. “What do you suppose is the matter with him?”
Her mother shrugged her shoulders. “He seemed fine until I mentioned the girl.”
Ines looked at her. “Mother, you got her name wrong. It’s Celeste, not Celine.”
“Well, the names are so similar, it’s easy to get them confused. I wish Emile hadn’t run off like that. What could be more important than having dinner with us?”
Emile hurried to his car and got in. For a few minutes, he sat there, trying to process what he had just learned. Théo and Celine were flying off to St. Barts together. It seemed as if his brother had succeeded in cheering her up last night. His fingers gripped the steering wheel as jealousy ripped through him. He had no right to be feeling like this but he couldn’t help it. He was in love with her and the thought of her with his brother on a beautiful island was unbearable but what could he do about it? The best thing for him to do was to get over her. Perhaps, I should fly off somewhere too just to get her out of my system.
He gunned the engine and raced away. Instead of heading home, he found himself going in the direction of Théo’s flat. What was he going to say to him when he got there? He had no clue. All he knew was that he had to see him. When he got there and stood outside of the door, he hesitated. This was not a good idea. He should turn around and go home. Just as he made up his mind to do just that, the door opened and Théo stood there. He was surprised to see him. “I was just on my way out,” he said. “Celine is here though. I’m sure she would be happy to see you.”
Hearing that Celine was there got his heart racing. “Where are you going? Will you be gone long?” he asked his brother. He was afraid of being alone with her. There was no telling what he might be tempted to do.
“I have to run an errand. I should be back in about forty-five minutes or so. Oh, did I tell you that about the trip to St. Barts?”
Emile shook his head. “No, you didn’t.”
“I meant to when we had lunch yesterday but it slipped my mind. The flight is tomorrow night. Anyway, go on in and make yourself at home.” He held the door open for Emile to step in and then he closed and locked it behind him.
Emile stood in the foyer for a few minutes before he removed his shoes and went into the living-room where Celine was. She turned when she heard him. He closed the distance between and they stood there staring at each other. The air palpable between them. She was wearing a black top and a denim skirt which revealed shapely legs. His felt his body respond and he released a shaky breath.
“I didn’t expect to see you,” she said.
“I didn’t expect to see you either,” he replied. “I thought you might be home packing for your trip.”
She stared at him. “Trip?” she repeated. “What trip?”
“The one to St. Barts with Théo.
“I’m not going to St. Barts with Théo.”
He looked at her, confused now. “But Théo said…”
“Théo couldn’t have said that I was going with him. He’s going with Celeste.”
“Yes! She’s the girl he’s been dating for some time now.”
“But you and he went dancing last night.”
“Yes. Celeste was there too.”
He ran his fingers through his hair, trying to make sense of this. “When my mother mentioned that Théo was going to St. Barts with someone, I–”
“You made the assumption that it was me. Why?”
“I thought you were his girlfriend, Celine.”
“No, Théo and I are just good friends. Is that why you haven’t been in touch with me? After we spent such a lovely day at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, I thought that we would see more of each other. I thought you liked me, Emile.”
He stared down into her face, incredulous. “Like you?” he exclaimed. “Celine, I’m in love with you. I wanted to see you again but I couldn’t because of your relationship with Théo. I truly believed that you and he were romantically involved.”
“All this time you thought I was in love with your brother when it was you all along. I fell in love with you when he showed me your photo. I wanted to ask him if I could keep it but I decided that would seem a bit weird. I kept hounding him to introduce us and he finally did. When I saw you in person, I fell harder for you. Your photo didn’t do you justice. You were reserved but very charming. I couldn’t keep my eyes off you that night and I was so happy when you came by the following night. And when you offered to give me a ride home, I was ecstatic. I got a chance to know you better and I was on cloud nine when you asked me to go to Saint-Germain-en-Laye with you.”
He took her hands in his and drew her towards him, his eyes darkening on her upturned face. “I’m thankful that I came over here tonight because we cleared up some misunderstandings. I would have continued to believe that you were Théo’s girlfriend and that you went away with him to St. Barts.”
“Yes. I would have continued feeling miserable because I thought you were no longer interested in me. Théo suspected that my troubles had to do with a man but I didn’t tell him who it was. He tried to cheer me up by taking me dancing but I couldn’t stop thinking about you and missing you. I left him and Celeste there and took a taxi home.”
He released her hands and cupped her face between his, his eyes searching hers. “I feel as if I have been waiting for you all of my life.” he murmured huskily. “I want to court you for a while and then I want to marry you.”
She smiled up at him as she put her arms around his waist. “When I asked God to give me someone that I could love with all my heart and who would love me in return, someone I can grow old with, to spend that rest of my imperfect life, He gave me you. I will be eternally grateful to Him.”
“Yes, I too am eternally grateful to Him because He blessed me with you.” He lowered his head and kissed her then. As their lips locked, he knew that if he were to ever lose his memory, he would never forget their first kiss.